Once you declare to those you lead how you will lead them and how you want them to lead others, you must then shift attention to your own leadership behavior. You should decide exactly how you want to show up as a leader and model it consistently. Being a positive role model in front of your constituents is key to both your success and theirs. Lee Iacocca said “Leadership means setting an example. When you find yourself in a position of leadership, people follow your every move.” Think hard about what you value in a leader and how you like to be led, then lead in kind. Everything you do should be done with noble intentions and with your audience in mind. If you want good results you must properly influence others through the example you set so they “want” to deliver good results for you, themselves and the company. Ghandi said “Become the change you want to see.” Leading by example is the core leadership principal a chief executive must embrace. Albert Schweitzer expressed it very simply when he said “example is leadership.”
We all set examples. They can trend towards being either good or bad examples. Arrogance, greed, disingenuousness, indifference, ignorance, unconsciousness, miscalculation, and disengagement are just some of the reasons why a leader fails to set a good example. The opposite traits of humility, generosity, honesty, concern, knowledge, consciousness, calculation, and engagement are foundational to leading by example. It’s not only about setting a good example to get others to follow you, it’s also about modeling good behaviors so that those you influence will also replicate those positive behaviors on behalf of their followers.
In 2011 the Journal of Applied Psychology published a study that offered strong evidence which supported that leading by example works to get others to engage in desired behaviors. The study consisted of 67 separate work groups involving 683 total employees in a large Israeli communication organization. It looked at how the leader’s behavior affected the behavior of the group. The premise was that group members would be more likely to go above and beyond their formal job responsibilities to help their colleagues and company, if they first see their leader doing the same. The results showed convincingly that group members were more likely to engage in desired behavior if they believed that it was a worthy behavior. Additionally, the value of pursuing the worthy behavior was affected by both the leader’s actual behavior and their belief that the leader was a worthy role model.
Whatever the behavior you want to see from your followers, you are more likely to get it from them if they believe the behavior is worthy of their effort. The research suggests that a key way to elicit the behavior you want to see is to practice it yourself and believe what you are doing is truly worthy of the effort. If you demonstrate worthy-based behavior your followers are more likely to do so as well. Albert Einstein suggested “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others: it is the only means.”
To validate that your behavior is effective and is worthy of others following you, identify and enroll trusted accountability partners that can give you feedback about how well you demonstrate good leadership behaviors versus merely declaring them. Oftentimes we don’t know that we are setting a positive or negative example because we have done it our way so long we can no longer sense our own behavior. Sometimes we become complacent or indifferent in assessing and displaying optimal behavior traits. That is why we need input from others that we trust and can rely on to give us honest unfiltered feedback. You can’t improve on what you don’t measure.
Remember, lead consciously by setting a worthy example and your constituents will line up behind you with enthusiasm.